Tuesday, May 10, 2011

*** BEGINNING THIS WEEK *** Three-Week Tchaikovsky Festival

[CALGARY, AB] On the road on business this week, but have prepared a new podcast/montage for you.

(UPDATE 2011-06-12 En français - http://itywltmt.blogspot.com/2011/07/un-festival-tchaikovski-premier-volet.html)
I am planning a 3-part series devoted to the Tchaikovsky “final three” symphonies, and his set of Shakespeare-inspired orchestral fantasies.The “planned” portion of each podcast lasts about 60 minutes, and I will add some selections as “filler”, which I will discuss in individual blog postings.
About the Symphonies
In all, Tchaikovsky wrote seven symphonies, six are “numbered” and the seventh symphony (“Manfred”) chronologically sits between his 4th and 5th symphonies.
The output can really be divided into two distinct sections: the first three symphonies are very early romantic/late classical in nature, not unlike those of other Tchaikovsky Russian contemporaries – Rimsky-Korsakiov, Glazounov and Borodin most notably. They adhere to the usual four-movement formula and, though they each have a nickname, they can be viewed as thematic or not – in fact the nicknames of the second (Little Russian) and third (Polish) really refer to the style of the specific movements, evocations of Ukrainian folk motifs and use of a Polonaise, respectively. The first (Winter Dreams) is programmatic (the movements have subtitles that suggest that), but without the introduction of recurring themes uniting them.
In contrast, the last three are clearly late-romantic and more comparable to, say, Brahms’ symphonic output because of their expansive nature. They have deeper sense of darkness and despair in them making the comparison to Brahms somewhat unfair – Tchaikovsky’s later symphonies have nothing German in them, they are truly Russian, but they are more ambitious than anything his Russian counterparts ever tried to write. Finally, though they have darkness in them, there are still parts of the symphonies that suggest hope, and some movements are timeless (the Andante cantabile movement of the Fifth comes to mind).
About the Performances
When looking at the Tchaikovsky symphony discography, the set of three symphonies numbered 4 to 6 are often grouped together and only one version stands out in my mind: the legendary September and November 1960 recording of these symphonies by the Leningrad Philharmonic, under Evgenii Mravinsly, during their tour of Great Britain and Austria. I own vinyl re-issues (under the DG “Resonance” series) since my junior college days, and was so glad to find them re-issued on CD.
NPR’s Ted Libbey writes:

“[Mravinsky’s readings of the symphonies are] of hair-raising intensity--the finale of the Fourth is marked allegro con fuoco, and if you want to know what con fuoco means, all you have to do is listen for a moment. No one else has ever had the nerve, or the ability, to play the music this way. The treatment is very Russian: the extremes are more extreme, the passions more feverish, the melancholy darker, the climaxes louder. In that department, the development section of the first movement of the Pathètique has to be heard to be believed. The sound is remarkably good for the time, a little edgy in the loudest pages but wonderfully present, just like the performances themselves.”
My first installment will come this Friday with the Fourth coupled with the fantasy Tchaikovsky wrote on "The Tempest".
Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic’s partnership began in 1931, and he took over as its principal conductor in October 1938, a post he was to hold for 50 years (until his death in 1988). Under Mravinsky, the Leningrad Philharmonic gained a legendary reputation, particularly in Russian music such as Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Mravinsky made commercial studio recordings from 1938 to 1961. His issued recordings from after 1961 were taken from live concerts.

UPDATE (2011-10-30) Here is a list of the Tcahikovsky festival montages and posts: